Bishop John Schol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them….but the Lord looks at the heart.  –  1 Samuel 16:7                                 

As Bishops of The United Methodist Church, we affirm that WE ARE OF ONE HEART in our desire to discern the mind and will of Jesus Christ for our leadership and the church. In the Northeastern Jurisdiction and around the world, we experience great diversity of thought and practice within The United Methodist Church. In partnership with Bishops from around the world, we will continue to lead collectively and individually to value and provide room for our diversity as United Methodists.

The Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops
 Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

In 2016, the General Conference asked the Bishops of the United Methodist Church to lead a process that would find a way forward for the church concerning human sexuality and, in particular, the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. The United Methodist Bishops just completed a week-long gathering in Chicago to review three plans developed by the Commission on the Way Forward.

Our time was filled with worship, prayer, conversation and discernment about the way forward for the church. We finalized our recommendation to the February 2019 Special General Conference Session.

The three proposals and their variations include:

  1. The Traditionalist Plan:  Strengthen the existing language about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline and create swift and strong punishment of anyone that does not follow the Book of Discipline.

The Council of Bishops is not recommending this model to the General Conference because it will create disruption, church trials and pain for individuals and congregations that would distract us from our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

  1. The Connectional Conference Plan:  Create a Connectional Conference Model for the church which allows congregations to decide to be a part of one of three “branches”/conferences in the United States – progressive, centrist or conservative. These conferences could modify the Book of Discipline and align church practices to their theology and understanding. Present annual conferences and even congregations could choose different “branches”/conferences.

The Council of Bishops is not recommending this model to the General Conference.A similar model was created in 1939 which separated a majority of African Americans and the rest of the church into distinct conferences.It was finally disbanded in 1968 and caused lasting pain to many in our denomination. It would not be helpful for us to be separate but equal, separating us by theology and segregating gays and lesbians. It would also require years to implement, maybe as many as 10 years and that would detract us from the mission of Jesus Christ and focus us on institutional matters.

  1. The One Church Plan:  Create a One Church Plan that allows:
  • Congregations to decide their marriage policies.
  • Pastors to determine who they will marry.
  • Boards of Ordained Ministry and clergy executive sessions to determine fit and readiness for ministry.

The Council of Bishops is recommending this model to the General Conference because it preserves appropriate local decision-making and does not require congregations to think and act alike. It preserves our unity in the midst of differences, allows for contextualization and provides the least disruption to the mission of Jesus Christ.

This proposal represents the Bishops’ best discernment around these critical and sensitive matters. This recommended plan along with a report that includes the details of each proposal will be sent to the February 2019 Special General Conference for their consideration. We also request that you intentionally and purposefully pray for our church as we enter into this season of deliberation and discernment.

The full report and recommended One Church Plan will be released no later than July 8, 2018. There is further rewriting that needs to occur and then all of the materials, approximately 75 pages, will be translated into the languages spoken at General Conference.

I recognize there will be United Methodists that will not be in agreement with the proposed plan by the Bishops. Some will find it hard to be in a church that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians. Others will not accept that parts of our denomination will allow congregations, pastors and conferences to make their own decisions about marriage and leadership for the church that may include gays and lesbians. I recognize the Bishops’ recommendation will generate different feelings and opinions. I humbly ask you to stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church and in your life. I hope that while we may not all think alike, we will all love as Jesus loved.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2019 Special General Conference, I pledge to you to be your bishop, a bishop of the whole church. The Special General Conference could adopt or modify one of the plans listed above or make no change at all. I cannot not envision United Methodists in Greater New Jersey not gathering and serving together in one Annual Conference. We are united in common purpose and we continue to be graceful in our disagreements.

If there is change, I will not make appointments or lead in a way that seeks to change your mind about homosexuality. Each of us arrives at various beliefs based on our experiences, understandings and convictions. If General Conference does not make any changes to our Book of Discipline, I will continue to lead in our mission and respect our clergy and laity serving contextually in their ministry with their community.

Click here to read the press release from the Council of Bishops.  When the full report from the Council of Bishops is released, I invite and encourage you to review and reflect on the recommendations.

I call us to stay focused on our mission, to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to grow vital congregations to transform the world. Let’s not allow differences to deter us from serving Christ in and through our congregations. We have made great progress and God has a future with hope for us.

Thank you for being United Methodist, for your commitment to Jesus Christ and for your service to the church and the world. In the midst of the vast diversity found within our United Methodist Church, the Bishops continue to work for the unity of the church and long for each of us to BE OF ONE HEART in our desire to discern the mind and will of Jesus Christ for the mission of our church.

Keep the faith!

John

John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey

 


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Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

When I heard the results that two amendments for gender equality which passed at the 2016 General Conference but did not pass annual conference voting, I thought about Rosa Williams, GNJ’s Lay Leader who has been a faithful servant to our ministry together for the last eight years. I wondered how Lynn Caterson, GNJ’s Chancellor, would feel about this news after working tirelessly on behalf of GNJ and our churches. I imagined Shawn Calendar Hogan and Gina Kim, outstanding pastors and leaders, trying to find the right words to share the news with their congregations.   I couldn’t even imagine the pain of Harriett Olson, another GNJ leader who now leads the denomination’s United Methodist Women. I asked myself how I would face these vital leaders and all the women who have led the church with Godly wisdom and Holy Spirit passion.

Today I face that difficult task.  The two amendments regarding gender equality passed by the 2016 General Conference were not approved by the annual conferences. In our polity, any change to our constitution must be approved also by the clergy and lay members to our annual conferences.

These amendments included

  1. The first amendment proposed a new paragraph between current Paragraph 5 and Paragraph 6 that would have provided gender justice.
  2. The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in Paragraph 4 in The Book of Discipline. If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added gender, as well as ability, age and marital status to the protected membership groups.

First let me say how grateful I am for the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey. You approved these two constitutional amendments by more than 90%. Thank you. You worship each Sunday with congregations that have gifted and strong women disciples.  In fact, on most Sundays women outnumber men in our worshipping communities.  You are a part of a conference in which 47% of our 2018 appointments are women.  You serve in a conference that has an executive leadership team that is 50% women leaders.   The women leadership in our congregations and conferences has made the difference in our mission. Thank you.

I also want to thank the men who have championed women’s equality. You are part of God’s unfolding story for a more faithful and just church and world.

So how is it that in the 21st century something so obvious to the people of GNJ is not as obvious to others?

In the United States and in Europe, Asia and Africa where our United Methodist churches are located, there continues to be discrimination, harassment and even psychological and physical harm to women. A male dominated culture has created a bias within the world and the family of God. We must continue to resist such biases and work toward equality.

It is also a narrow reading and understanding of the scriptures. People continue to say that Jesus only selected male apostles, that the Apostle Paul spoke clearly about women’s roles in the home, society and the church, and that God in the creation of Eve made her less than Adam. This type of theology does harm to women, men, the church and the culture. It gives permission for discrimination and abuse. It is a complete misunderstanding of the scriptures and the culture in which the scriptures were written.

There are areas in our nation and in nations around the world where United Methodist congregations serve that still have a bias against women in leadership. In fact, 12 of our conferences voting on the amendments have zero votes for the constitutional amendment. One of our U.S. conferences voted 2-1 against the amendments.

Being a part of a theologically diverse and global denomination is challenging because there are significant cultural differences. This will not change with a single vote or a constitutional amendment. The journey for equality in the U.S. and The United Methodist Church has been part of our national work since our inception and still continues today.

The day after I told my wife Beverly of the news of the vote, she got up early the next morning, prayed for the church and the world and then began her work on behalf of the church. Beverly’s attitude is that her love for the church and the work of the church is not dependent on the church’s love for her. It seems that is the way Jesus loved.

I recognize that many women will be confused and even hurt by this lack of action by our global church. I invite our pastors and lay men to be a source of healing and affirmation for our women.

I call the church to continue to give thanks for the gift of women and to honor their gifts for leadership and service at every level of leadership in the church. Let us continue to love like Jesus, even in the midst of our differences. Let each of us stand up to gender and racial discrimination and ensure equality for everyone.

Today, I want our women to know that I am sorry for our past and present discrimination and I pledge that I will continue to serve and lead so that all experience the grace and affirmation of God and the church.

Keep the faith!

John

John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey

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